Behavioral reactivity to emotion challenge is associated with cortisol reactivity and regulation at 7, 15, and 24 months of age.Dev Psychobiol. 2014 Apr; 56(3):474-88.DP
Emotionally arousing stimuli have been largely unsuccessful in eliciting cortisol responses in young children. Whether or not emotion challenge will elicit a cortisol response, however, may in part be determined by the extent to which the tasks elicit behavioral reactivity and regulation. We examined relations of behavioral reactivity and regulation to emotional arousal in the context of fear and frustration to the cortisol response at 7, 15, and 24 months of age in a low income, rural population based sample of 1,292 families followed longitudinally from birth. At each age, children participated in fear and frustration inducing tasks, and cortisol samples were taken at three time points (before the tasks began, 20 min following peak emotional arousal or after the series of tasks ended, and 40 min after peak arousal or the tasks ended) in order to capture both increases (reactivity) and subsequent decreases (regulation) in the cortisol response. Using multilevel models, we predicted the cortisol response from measures of behavioral reactivity and regulation. At 7 months of age, cortisol reactivity and recovery were related to behavioral reactivity during a frustration-eliciting task and marginally related to behavioral reactivity during a fear-eliciting task. At 15 and 24 months of age, however, cortisol reactivity and recovery were related only to behavioral reactivity during a fear-eliciting task. Results indicate that while behavioral reactivity is predictive of whether or not infants and young children will exhibit a cortisol response to emotionally arousing tasks, behavioral and cortisol reactivity are not necessarily coupled.